Jeff Roe, Top Strategist for Star-Crossed DeSantis Super PAC, Resigns

Jeff Roe, the chief strategist for the leading super PAC supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis’s presidential bid, resigned on Saturday night, the latest and perhaps most significant departure from the group, which has been consumed by turmoil in recent weeks.

Since the day before Thanksgiving, the pro-DeSantis super PAC, which is called Never Back Down, has seen the resignation of one chief executive and one board chairman; the firing of a second chief executive, along with two other top officials; and now the late-night quitting of Mr. Roe. All have come after intense infighting and finger-pointing as Mr. DeSantis has slipped in the polls.

“I can’t believe it ended this way,” Mr. Roe wrote in a statement he posted on X on Saturday night. The news of Mr. Roe’s resignation was first reported by The Washington Post.

His decision to quit followed comments from the new chairman of the super PAC’s board, Scott Wagner, a DeSantis loyalist and appointee in Florida. Mr. Wagner had explained to politics/2023/12/16/desantis-super-pac-collapse/” title=”” rel=”noopener noreferrer” target=”_blank”>The Washington Post why the previous chief executive and two others — all of whom had worked for Mr. Roe — had been fired.

Mr. Wagner accused them of “mismanagement and conduct issues” as well as “numerous unauthorized leaks.” The Post reported that a lawyer for those employees contacted Mr. Wagner, who then revised his statement to add hedges to those accusations.

“I cannot in good conscience stay affiliated with Never Back Down given the statements in The Washington Post,” Mr. Roe wrote in a statement. He said he still hoped Mr. DeSantis would be the next president and praised the Never Back Down team as “political warriors.”

Mr. Wagner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

From the start, Never Back Down has been something of a Frankenstein’s monster in its composition, with Mr. Roe and some of his top lieutenants forced to coexist with a decision-making board comprised primarily of longtime friends and loyalists of Mr. DeSantis. The arrangement has raised questions about how closely the campaign and the super PAC have adhered to rules barring coordination.

Former President Donald J. Trump, who was in Las Vegas for a U.F.C. match and who has routinely mocked Mr. Roe privately, celebrated the departure in a post on his social-media site, Truth Social. “Jeff Roe is out — GAME OVER for DeSanctimonious,” he wrote.

The future of internal operations at Never Back Down, which had raised more than $130 million as of July, is unclear. Mr. Roe’s allies hold many of the most important positions in the group, and his company, Axiom, has helped staff early state efforts for the super PAC. Whether they all remain in place is unclear.

Word that Mr. Roe was departing the super PAC began to spread shortly before 8 p.m. on Saturday. But Mr. Roe and several people connected to Never Back Down did not respond to multiple messages seeking confirmation. Mr. Roe ultimately delivered his news to The Washington Post and posted it on X.

Mr. Roe had long ago aggravated Mr. DeSantis with unwanted headlines, among them a New York Times story about a memo narrating debate strategy for the candidate before the first primary debate that was posted on his company’s website, and then taken down after The Times learned of it. The campaign found the memo’s existence embarrassing.

Later, at the end of August, Mr. Roe was secretly recorded at a meeting with donors pitching them for tens of millions of dollars, as well as saying that Mr. DeSantis needed to beat Mr. Trump over the following 60 days.

The Trump campaign has seized on the “60 days” comment, referring to it in an often vicious daily email as Mr. Roe’s “kiss of death.” That 60-day period has passed, with Mr. DeSantis still well behind the former president in the polls.

Never Back Down has been hobbled by infighting for weeks, as senior staff members quit or were fired. Mr. DeSantis and his team had been unhappy with the group’s operations, particularly its focus on television advertising, and they had signaled that they wanted it to work more substantially on getting out the vote.

Tensions reached a breaking point in November when another super PAC, Fight Right, was formed by a trio of DeSantis loyalists. The board of Never Back Down directed $1 million to that group, and, soon after, the initial chief executive, Chris Jankowski, resigned, followed by the resignation of the board chairman, Adam Laxalt.

The person named as Mr. Jankowski’s replacement, Kristin Davison, was then fired, along with two other top officials.

Mr. DeSantis has since met with prospective donors for Fight Right, and his campaign manager wrote a memo that embraced the group as the preferred entity to do its political advertising. The new super PAC’s first ad attacked Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina by invoking past comments she had made about Hillary Clinton — a line of attack that the campaign had just prominently featured in its own anti-Haley materials.

Although Mr. DeSantis entered the race as the leading challenger to Mr. Trump, his campaign has sputtered in recent months. Ms. Haley has now equaled or surpassed Mr. DeSantis in many early state polls.

The constant drama at the super PAC has infuriated some campaign staff members, who see it as a needless, constant distraction. The campaign itself was once the source of that drama, undergoing mass layoffs and seeing the elevation of a campaign manager who had never worked on a campaign.

Jeff Roe, the chief strategist for the pro-Ron DeSantis super PAC called Never Back Down, has resigned amidst turmoil within the group. The super PAC has experienced multiple high-level departures and firings in recent weeks, coinciding with DeSantis’s decline in the polls. The latest departure followed comments from the new board chairman, Scott Wagner, accusing former executives of mismanagement and unauthorized leaks. Roe expressed his disappointment with the situation and his support for DeSantis in a statement. The composition of Never Back Down has raised questions about potential coordination with DeSantis’s campaign. Former President Donald Trump celebrated Roe’s departure on his social media platform. The future of the super PAC’s operations and staff remains uncertain. The constant drama at Never Back Down has frustrated campaign staff members, who see it as a needless distraction. DeSantis’s campaign has struggled in recent months, with rival Nikki Haley gaining ground in early state polls.

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